“It’s stage 4 lung cancer.”
I was never prepared to hear those words, and certainly not in reference to my now 11-year-old son, Roland. What has followed in the year since his extremely rare diagnosis has been similarly hard to fathom. Seven prescriptions administered in the morning and night, unbearable aches and pains that force us to rush to the doctor at a moment’s notice, and the anxiety caused by the seemingly unending battle in Congress over access to health care for families like mine.
It’s been nearly a month since Congress let funding lapse for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or what we in Missouri call MO HealthNet for Kids. Without additional funding, approximately 27,000 kids in Missouri could lose their health care coverage. Nationwide, CHIP covers about 9 million children from low-income families.
For our family, CHIP has made it possible for Roland to see his oncologist and get the treatment he needs. When you’re raising three kids under the age of 11 as a single parent, you do everything you can to keep the balls you’re juggling from hitting the ground. Add cancer into the mix, and the juggling act becomes even harder. CHIP has helped our family stay afloat.
Unless Congress acts now, 10 states will exhaust their CHIP funding by the end of the year, and Missouri will deplete its reserves by March. States across the country are already taking emergency measures to keep their programs operating. Nonetheless, many will be forced to begin notifying parents that their children will lose their CHIP coverage unless Congress restores funding for the program.
If Congress forces Missouri to drop Roland’s coverage, our family will be in an impossible situation. I don’t have the savings to pay for Roland’s care out of pocket. I don’t have family and friends — much less a bank — who will loan us tens of thousands of dollars for Roland’s treatment.
I understand that our society is divided right now. I understand that Republicans and Democrats can have honest differences of opinion. What I cannot understand is how the U.S. Congress could make the health security of kids like Roland a guessing game, and their lives bargaining chips. Watching my baby fight for his life this past year has been agonizing. I’ve held him in my arms while he cries in pain, I’ve experienced anxiety and stress I thought I would never overcome, and I have had to have conversations with Roland’s younger brothers that no child should have to have. I have always known that our situation could get worse, but I never imagined that Congress would be an obstacle in my son’s battle with cancer.
For the past month, House Republicans have held up an $8.2 billion bipartisan deal brokered in the Senate to reauthorize the CHIP program for five years in hopes that they can get Democrats to agree to make cuts to other health care programs like Medicare or the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides grants to states to combat things like hospital-acquired infections. What does it say about Congress and who our elected officials work for that their number one priority for the month of November is passing a massive tax cut that will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit and not reauthorizing health coverage for 9 million low-income children? To families like mine who have enough to worry about, the answer is pretty clear.
My 7- and 8-year-olds have stepped up to help out this past year. Now it’s up to Congress to demonstrate the same compassion and maturity. President Donald Trump, it is time for you to call on House Republicans to stop the brinksmanship and support the bipartisan deal in the Senate. It’s time to get this done.
Myra Gregory lives in St. Louis and is a single mom to three young children.